It's a tough (unpaid) job being a reviewer (I hate the word â??critic') because you are sometimes outfaced by a mountain of material that needs to be ploughed through but fortunately for the Staffers here at Punknews we're free to decide what we do, unless we've signed a pact with one of the two Reviews Editors (man, they're tough men to please!) to cover a particular release. Sometimes that mountain is topped by a band that comes along and kind of broadsides you, where expectations were minimal for whatever reason but they make an immediate, positive, impact: Wisecrack is one of those bands. As I've frequently stated, it's discoveries like this that has made music such an important part of my life over the last 40 years or so since I first started actively listening to my parents' records (a lot of Motown), and I live in hope that there is always another gem waiting to be heard hence the never-ending musical quest.
Anyway, Wisecrack are a folk-punk band (aren't they all these days though?) that are based in Plymouth and Lincoln (about 300 miles apart) although I'm not exactly sure of who resides where. The band has Matt Colwell taking centre stage on vocals and guitar which is a change to his other gig sitting behind the mighty Crazy Arm, banging hell out of a drum kit. This switch up works really well as Colwell has a voice with a warming quality to it that adds bags of emphasis and punch to the eight songs on this release. Additionally there are a total of five other musical contributors named as being involved on this recording, beyond Colwell and an anonymous drummer!
There is a plethora of bands working under the â??folk-punk' banner these days and a lot of them do nothing for me but Wisecrack has more punk than folk and although it's probably a lazy comparison, there is something of Crazy Arm to be heard at times on Whiskey, No Mixer and it's not just Colwell who is involved from that outfit as Darren Johns lends his banjo playing to a number of songs as well to good effect; I would say that these are have some impact on why I like this given my admiration for that band. The influence of Crazy Arm, be it deliberate or otherwise, is heard on songs like "Happy Trails"" and "Straight & True" where I wouldn't be surprised to be told that the hand of Johns had been involved and that's a compliment to whoever actually came up with it. It's also in the structure of some of the songs that I hear some Crazy Arm and the instrumental "Intermission" is a fine example of this in the way it creates a tension through the guitar/drum/bass combo. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a Crazy Arm love in, but Wisecrack have certainly drunk from the same well as their Plymothian counterparts which is never a bad thing in my view. The band also shows another side of itself with "The Problem Is Symptomatic", a song that has the power of A Wilhelm Scream and Strung Out without the intricate guitar work and also the closing track "Teeth" which has a much more straightforward melodic punk quality to it, delivering a strong final offering that is my cue to go back to the beginning of Whiskey, No Mixer and start all over again.
I can't confirm this yet but I'd imagine a Wisecrack gig would be blessed with high energy and enjoyment levels to keep punters engaged and not chatting to friends, playing on mobile phones or another of those mildly annoying activities that go on these days at shows. Songs like "Proverbial Food" and others mentioned above are just crying out to be witnessed by a bunch of people bouncing shoulder to shoulder, supping and spilling pints whilst they sing themselves hoarse in some tiny, sweaty venue.
Like all good bands it's the ability to keep a collection of songs from sounding tired and overly similar which helps to hook people in and Wisecrack manage to do that with aplomb here. Finally, you've got to love a band that describes themselves as "Anti-fascist, Pro-Fun" â?? what more could you ask for other than the cracking songs that they obviously have under their belt? I'm not sure if this will be available anywhere other than Bandcamp but fingers crossed someone in their right mind will ensure this gets a physical release. This band would go down well at The Fest, I guarantee that.